While the field of robotics may have recently been labelled the 'fastest growing industry in the world', robots themselves continue to be associated with the unpredictable, triggering extreme emotions amongst the general population.
By Simon Holt, Marketing Manager, element14.
Nor does the role of robots in society seem clear: are they coming to make our lives easier, or take over the planet? Our perceptions of robots are heavily influenced by the media, which itself is unable to decide: some see robots as a great technological leap forwards, others as a threat the human race.
According to research by Dmitry Grishin, head of the world’s largest venture capital fund devoted solely to robots - Grishin Robotics - the future of robotics is being driven by the popularity of low-cost electronics, such as the Raspberry PI and Arduino boards. These low-cost components have led to a revitalisation of the home-robotics market, with hobbyists able to build their own autonomous devices at a fraction of the previous price.
However, faced with mixed attitudes towards and perceptions of robots, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that robotic engineers need to be particularly careful in how they approach their designs if they are to be successful.
In order to determine the key design trends that are guiding robotics development, and the challenges these pose for the wider industry, we have considered the developments that we expect to impact society within the next 5 years.
Adoption of drones outside of military applications
From radio-controlled drones that assist bird watchers, through to high-end children’s toys, the deployment of drones in the consumer and industrial space has attracted a lot of attention over the last few years.
Whilst the use of drones for both military and non-military purposes remains controversial, the truth is that unmanned drones are already being used positively in a number of real life applications. Some provide antibiotics to hospitals in the Himalayas; others deliver university textbooks to students in Sydney.
We would expect to see drones being more widely adopted within the customer landscape within the next five years, including as home delivery systems and in the workplace.
Robots that (who?) play a social role
RoboKind recently launched a new robot, named Milo, designed to help children with autism. The company believes that Milo is able to help them develop social skills, speaking to the evolving role that robots are playing in our lives - from performing purely functional tasks, to being actively involved in social activities.
Many people continue to perceive robots as servants, but the reality is that this role is changing and more robots are beginning to play social and communicative roles in society. With significant developments being made in speech-recognition software, we’d expect to see robots playing increasingly important roles as conversational 'companions'.
The possibilities of the robotics industry, and its appetite for innovation, are huge. Strict regulations and changing perceptions of machines’ roles in our lives will no doubt prove difficult issues that engineers need to overcome if consumer robotics are to take off.
However, the potential benefits that social and omnipresent robots can offer should outweigh such concerns - and opening this up to amateur engineers via low-cost hardware components will only help drive further innovation.